When great athletes don't know what to do with themselves: Herschel Walker, Tom Brady and America – New York Daily News

Sports and youth have always gone together; when kids play and even watch sports, they learn about focus and fortitude and teamwork. But lately, sports are yielding insights on retirement, un-retirement and post-retirement. Consider Herschel Walker and Tom Brady.
Walker is hoping to be elected to the U.S. Senate next week. Never mind that he has never held any public office or that he’s accused of being an absent father, an abusive spouse and an abortion hypocrite. Being a celebrity athlete seems to be enough. As Donald Trump put it when endorsing Walker: He was a great football player and, having retired, would be “an even greater politician.”
Former Georgia running back and Republican Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker (John Bazemore/AP)
Meanwhile, Tom Brady retired from football for six weeks before he suddenly un-retired. His wife wanted him home more, and last week, they officially got divorced, but the 45-year-old Brady, who has now lost three games straight for the first time in two decades, insists he’s got “unfinished business” on the field. Really? He already holds in his hands, which are adorned with seven Super Bowl rings, the most significant lifetime quarterbacking records, including touchdowns, passing yards and regular-season wins.
More likely, Brady currently, and Walker over many years have struggled to find a more suitable if boring post-football life. It can’t be easy to replace the roar of the crowd, the rush of the wins, the owners who spoil you, the fans who adore you.
F. Scott Fitzgerald famously thought there were no second acts in American life. True or not, difficulty in finding a worthy and fitting second career seems all too common in American sports even apart from Walker and Brady. Retiring pro athletes do not always transition smoothly to the mundane details of an unglamorous job beyond the end zone and outside the locker room.
And in pro football, the transition can come quickly. The average NFL career lasts less than four years, according to Statistica. NFL, as the saying goes, translates into Not For Long.
Even star athletes can have less-than-dignified post-retirement gigs. Hall of Famers troop to melancholy Old Timers’ Day celebrations, where their past means more than their present. They sign their names for money at collectibles shows until their wrists ache.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (Peter Joneleit /AP)
Although the NFL makes efforts to help players with post-football career planning, too often the message goes unheeded. Athletes devote years to their games, only to find themselves cashiered without backup skills or a genuine college education when their athletic prowess declines and the cheering subsides.
Baseball, which promises more longevity, is arguably better, but there are serious challenges there, too. My boyhood idol was Harmon Killebrew, the great and very nice Minnesota Twins slugger of long ago, whose plaque in Cooperstown reads that he was third all-time in home-run frequency. I wrote to him as a kid. He not only arranged to meet me. He provided tickets so I could attend my first Major League ballgame because my home state had no big-league franchise.
Killebrew is still a beloved figure in Minnesota. So I was shocked after he died to learn that his life went into a tailspin post-retirement. His trusting nature and a lack of business savvy eventually bankrupted him; his wife of 34 years divorced him; and one of his sons was involved in a bank robbery. Walker too, in a 2008 memoir, describes his life spinning out of control right after he retired from the NFL in 1997.
Brett Favre is another gridiron great who, like Brady, had trouble staying retired from the NFL. Instead of a soft landing in a useful new career, the one time Green Bay quarterback is now entangled in a major public corruption scandal in Mississippi involving the diversion of state funds for poor families into building a volleyball stadium at his daughter’s college. (One state official recently pled guilty; Favre has been sued but not charged criminally so far.)
To be sure, many pro athletes have succeeded admirably at second acts through a variety of everyday work and through their philanthropic activities, giving to others well beyond boilerplate charity golf tournaments.
But wouldn’t it have been useful for Walker, if he were truly interested in public service, to have served even once in the quarter-century since his NFL retirement on a school board or city council? Wouldn’t it have been better for Brady to have gone out on top and settled graciously into a fresh role after winning seven Super Bowls?
Serena Williams and Roger Federer both just retired from tennis with jubilant send offs that had everything but a gold pocket watch. If they go into politics, they could start small and build up some credibility. But make a clean break and stay retired as players.
Recall Ted Williams, who memorably hit a home run in his last at-bat and quickly left the field. He refused to even tip his cap after crossing home plate. Now there was an older athlete who knew how to move on.
Mehler is a lawyer.
Copyright © 2022, New York Daily News
Copyright © 2022, New York Daily News


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